Level Design‎ > ‎


Ambiance refers to the overall environment that the map presents. This can include the time of day, weather, and other elements. It can also include the pristine qualities of the map’s textures. Ambiance is for the most part decided for the forger based upon the Canvas they choose to forge on. But there are Special Effect objects that a forger can usually add that will significantly alter the Ambiance of the map. In this lesson I want to discuss how various qualities of Ambiance can impact the overall Aesthetics and in turn how it can impact a player’s emotions.


One predominant feature of all Reach maps were their bright Ambiance. They were all tuned to afternoon sunny skies. Halo 3 has a few dark maps, such as Sandbox, Guardian, Orbital, and Blackout; but otherwise were also predominantly sunny skies or bright interior Ambiance. It wasn’t until Halo 4 that the majority of maps were dark, hazy, or in some way obscured. (ODST had mostly dark in the campaign, but we are focused here on multiplayer.)

Brightness is key to a player’s speed of movement. Snipers is best played in massive open terrain or dark ambiance. (The Sniper playlists have always played like SWAT, never like a true sniper Game Type.) The darker the map the slower the player tends to move. This is basic psychology of FPS. I have always wondered why the publishers of Halo 4 turned the maps somewhat dark. They aren’t dark enough to retard movement but they are dark enough to ruin the feel of energetic movement.

This is also why Active Camo is a key component to Halo. There are some players that love the slow,stealth Game Play you get in dark maps. Active Camo leverages Halo’s sci-fi Theme to compensates for the bright Ambiance. In my opinion this compensation works best when it is a scarce resource on the map, implying Active Camo in loadouts is too much and clashes with the bright Ambiance.

Why does a limited resource of Active Camo not clash, but unlimited Active Camo does? Because a limited resource becomes a specialty; but unlimited brings into question if the Ambiance was properly chosen in the first place. In other words, it is okay to deviate from the map as a specialist. But it clashes with the map when the Game Play is heavily counter to the maps’ original design. A specialist brings depth to the map and makes it interesting. Over use of Active Camo breaks the map and distracts from (or even shallows) what depth it could bring to the map.


The purpose of Ambiance is to establish an atmosphere, an emotion within players, and to help immerse players into the Theme of your map. For this reason a special effect must support your map rather than usurp it. In other words, your map should provide pretty much the same Aesthetics (emotions and beauty) without the special effects; while the use of the special effect simply seals the deal and drives the Aesthetics home.

Special Effects

Canvas palettes typically include a selection of forge objects that when instantiated immediately apply their effect upon the video being rendered. Some darken the screen by applying a dark color, such as purple. While you can approximate night sky with some of these effects, I haven’t seen a true night sky effect that comes anywhere near the quality of natural dark we saw on Blackout.

However, if you need to make a black and white Ambiance (with natural greys through out) there is usually such an effect available. These work good for Living Dead maps (zombies or flood), because they help immerse players into a mindset of an old horror film. But for any other Game Type you want to leverage the natural Ambiance. Very rarely does any special effects work for any other Game Type.


Bright Ambiance sets an energetic feel of fast movement, while dark Ambiance promotes slow movement.

Active Camo compensates Halo’s tendencies for bright Ambiance to allow for slow stealth movement one typically finds on dark maps.

Special effects allow you to manipulate the Ambiance, but its use should support the Theme of the map, never usurp the map.

Black and white special effects are sometimes used to promote the horror film Aesthetics of Living Dead maps; otherwise all other Game Types are best served promoting the natural Ambiance of the Canvas the map is forged on.